Coming out in inverted commas because I'm unsure as to how I feel about the term. No one should feel obligated to declare their sexuality - it is a very personal thing. However, we live in a world where people are assumed heterosexual until they assert otherwise, and as such coming out is often a practical thing you have to do. How can we expect to obtain our rights, without first asserting that we exist?

Monday, 26 May 2014

Coming Out to...the Colleagues, Part 3

Challenges at a Multinational

I consider myself to be relatively safe within the UK. My sexuality (as perceived since I am bisexual) has only ever resulted in mild homophobic abuse from strangers in public when out with male partners. No case has been anything that I've not been able to brush off or glare away.

At work I've felt even safer - my immediate colleagues are all very accepting. However, they are all from the UK or have been based in the UK for quite some time, a country where LGBTQ acceptance levels are generally high. I often find myself wondering about the tolerance and acceptance I would encounter at my company's offices around the world, especially in countries where levels of LGBTQ acceptance are low. I often travel to these countries for work, and I wonder what kind of balance I should strike between my personal safety versus being open and giving people the benefit of doubt.

To date I've made my personal safety paramount and have never explicitly disclosed my sexuality. But when the context has been appropriate, I have nudged discussion towards the themes of sexuality in order to determine people's feelings and attitudes. What I've encountered so far is ignorance rather than hostility, although the first can and does morph into the latter under the right conditions. I've heard people express fears of the "gays are increasing", at which I've laughed outright and explained that it was rather a question of people being more open about their sexuality.

Colleagues from these very same countries often make trips to our offices in the UK too. When they do, I am in a safer environment, and so recently I decided to give a few of them the benefit of doubt with regards to anti-LGBTQ views. I casually mentioned the boyfriend in conversation within a mixed group, with no discernible reaction from anyone. I think it is worth mentioning that this included colleagues from the Middle East and Africa, regions that are perceived to be quite intolerant. Later, I explicitly mentioned the boyfriend in direct conversation with a Muslim colleague from the Middle East. He was already aware that I am a Muslim myself - we'd previously had a discussion about halal food and how to avoid alcohol based dishes. Again, there was no discernible reaction, and neither did his attitude towards me change subsequently. 

I don't want to read too deeply into this. It is quite likely that he is aware of the norms in the UK and within the company, and is acting accordingly. Or that even if he disagrees with my "lifestyle", he does not see me as someone he should bring it up with as I am merely a colleague. However, the net result is positive, I'm hoping my future experiences will follow the same theme.

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